The waste of war

“War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it.”
– George Orwell

Wars are extraordinarily wasteful; which means they are great for business. Even in peacetime, the threat of war is both very wasteful and highly profitable. The waste of war might be the way of the world, but it doesn’t have to be.

Whilst war has always been a waste, before the advent of permanent standing military forces it was also bad for business. Soldiers were workers and the economy doesn’t work without workers. However in the past century war, and peace, has become big business. Previously, there were not all the sophisticated weapon systems and transport options we have now. A few rifle and artillery manufacturers, plus shipyards, would do alright from conflict but nothing like the trillion dollar a year bonanza that exists now.

The military industrial complex

An industrial complex is a group of interconnected industrial entities that provide goods and services in a particular sector. The military industrial complex is made up of a multitude of businesses that contract to the military to supply goods and services. It is an enormous industry and in the US it is far bigger than in any other country.

The overall societal purpose of the military industrial complex is defence and thereby peace, but the goals of the participating complex of businesses include unrest as well as the threat and actual waging of war, because they can make more money that way.

The military spent US$2.2 Trillion (yes, Trillion!) worldwide in 2022. The USA spent about 40% (US$760 billion) of that, which was as much as the next ten countries put together. In the US over 50% of US discretionary (non-mandatory) spending goes on military related goods and services. The US industrial complex supplies many other countries as well. They export waste, called war.

How the is money spent

There is a vociferous argument that military spending goes on good things like: investment in useful peacetime technology; civilian as well as military jobs; and bolstering regional economies. These arguments are disingenuous. The same money could easily be spent on non-military things that would provide jobs and regional economic benefits without waste. Imagine if the US$2.2 Trillion a year spent on the military went on education, health, well-being and investment in small business. Now that would be something!

Noam Chomsky, amongst others, has repeatedly criticised the American government for enabling corporate profiteering by paying for the development of technology. It is by governments, like the US, paying taxpayer money to corporations to develop technologies that they then go on to commercialise that the poor subsidise the rich to get richer.

Military production counts as part of GDP – the military is nearly 4% of US GDP. This is illogical and perverse. To count something that is essentially negative and destructive as a positive in GDP doesn’t make sense.

Environmental cost

Soaring militarisation, including the war in Ukraine, is fueling climate change and is going undisclosed through emissions reporting channels. By international agreement, for security reasons, the world’s militaries are exempt from disclosing their emissions data. However, according to Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) the world’s militaries are responsible for approximately 5.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is outrageous.

Brown University’s Costs of War Project has estimated that the U.S. military is the single largest institutional source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. The Costs of War Project estimated the U.S. military emitted 51 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2020 – more than the emissions of most countries. The bulk of those emissions come from fuel use and maintaining more than half a million buildings.

The first 12 months of the Ukraine war reportedly produced 120 million tonnes of carbon which was more than the combined total of Singapore, Switzerland and Syria.

Human cost

Of course, the cost of war is not limited to the material waste and environmental cost. The destruction of life and property has always been the most tragic waste in military conflict. Your life is priceless to you but worthless to your enemy. 

Our ability to kill each other has literally exploded and not only the lives of military personnel but also innocent civilians who are the collateral waste of the aggression of their leaders.

People need to rebuild the enormous damage to civilian dwellings and infrastructure that wars create, further adding to the waste.

In support of peace and accord

Conflict occurs for all sorts of reasons. There is not the space here to go into them all, but there is no doubt that one of the reasons is because it is good for business. However, conflict is not a given – diplomacy, and compromise can and often do work.

It is immoral to make money from death and destruction.